Budget deals and mixed metaphors

  • 8 November 2012
  • From the section Wales
  • comments

How many Plaid AMs can you fit into a lift? I don't know but late yesterday afternoon I bumped into Leanne Wood and Ieuan Wyn Jones in an Assembly lift. I got out on the 4th floor, telling them we were planning to "ratchet up" speculation on last night's programmes about a deal on the budget being imminent. "You do that" they said- and didn't get out. The government floor is the fifth.

I'm guessing that half an hour later, the budget deal was done.

If you were hoping for a bit of a fanfare, or perhaps an announcement in a packed chamber today, or just a colourful, relief-fuelled clip from the First Minister and a jubliant Plaid, I'm afraid you've drawn a blank.

We can come up with a jubilant Plaid clip for you later but as for the rest? Quietly and with little drama, Labour have swapped their budget buddies from last year - the Liberal Democrats - to Plaid Cymru this year. That was then - and this is now.

I can offer some colour care of Conservative AM Darren Millar AM's tweeted suggestion that the deal between the former coalition partners is "like a dog returning to its vomit". I take it he's not a fan then. The party's official press release goes, not surprisingly, for a different metaphor, condemning "a cheap deal that hails the return of an old and ineffective tag team".

The Lib Dems are rather more sanguine. They gave it a good go, they couldn't get the deal they wanted. If it's a no to extending the pupil premium then it's no from Kirsty Williams and her group to supporting the budget.

"The budget negotiations with the Welsh Government were positive and constructive but Labour could not agree to the substantial increase in the funding for the poorest children in our society. This budget will mean that the funding gap between English and Welsh children will increase and I am very concerned that Wales will fall further behind".

One element in those negotiations survives - a push for a fund to pay for innovative treatments. The Lib Dems wanted £8m to spend on new forms of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, treatment for dementia sufferers or those suffering from mental health issues. They haven't got it as part of a deal but are "heartened that the Welsh Government seems to be willing to take our idea forward."

What do Plaid get? To say that thanks to them, an extra £20 million will be spent on supporting apprenticeships in Wales, particularly those in the 16-24 age group. That'll be handy on the doorsteps in future.

They've also got Labour's agreement to a £10million investment over the next two years in a science park involving Bangor and Aberystwyth universities. Where might that be? We don't yet know but might the fact that Plaid's finance spokesman, budget negotiator, former leader and Ynys Mon AM Ieuan Wyn Jones closed the deal point in any particular direction?

So £20m give or take last year, versus £25m give or take this year.

What else do Plaid get? Credibility, relevance, a boost for Leanne Wood and her desire to form a "united Welsh alternative That support doesn't, incidentally, extend to voting for the whole budget as the Lib Dems did last year. Plaid have only agreed to abstain.

They also get an opportunity to explain how come they condemned last year's deal as "cheap" while their own deal is not. Does the difference between cheap and worthwhile boil down to £5m?

What do Labour get out of it? A deal they can effortlessly present as "entirely in line" with their manifesto and proof positive that when Carwyn Jones formed his government, he meant it when he promised to reach out to other parties.

Carwyn Jones also gets to close an early deal on his spending plans. What that means, of course, is that he's now free to get on with thinking about the next chapter for his goverment - who knows, perhaps even the very shape of it - two years into its five year life.